Wed, May 24, 2000 - Page 9 News List

An island not to be forgotten

In a keynote speech to a reception on May 16, 2000 in Geneva, Switzerland, given during the 53rd World Health Assembly, the then director of the Department of Health made the government's case for Taiwan to receive observer status in the World Health Organization. Despite his plea, the issue was again blocked from consideration by China, along with several other countries

By Chan Chi-shean

This is my third time to be invited to Geneva to make a speech. I am pleased to be here again to greet you and, as I did before, to once again appeal to you for your support of Taiwan's observer status in the World Health Organization (WHO). In the past three years, Taiwan has received tremendous international support for this role. I will give you some examples in a moment.

First, I would like to say how pleased I am to see so many distinguished guests who have put aside their political differences to be here. On behalf of the people of Taiwan, I extend to you our most sincere appreciation. Our appreciation also goes to those who have come this far to support our deed as well as to the members of the Taiwan World Health Alliance for their enthusiastic support and participation.

In the past 12 months since I left Geneva, many things have happened in Taiwan. Two events that stand out the most are the devastating earthquake in 1999 and the presidential election in March. Despite the many significant changes, one thing has remained the same: Taiwan's willingness to assist the WHO's acti-vities, both financially and technically.

I would like to next talk about the 921 earthquake to explain to you why Taiwan has repeatedly requested observer status in the WHO, a position that would permit Taiwan to participate in a meaningful way in the WHO's activities.

As you may already know, on Sept. 21, 1999, a catastrophic earthquake, measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale, struck Taiwan. It was the biggest earthquake to hit Taiwan in 100 years.

More than 2,400 people perished and 10,000 were injured. Another 100,000 were left homeless. Over 10,000 buildings were destroyed, with economic loss approaching US$100 billion. These are the tangible losses. The immense psychological impact that the earthquake had on the people of Taiwan is more difficult to assess. The experience was, I must emphasize, devastating for the people of Taiwan.

We were fortunate that when the earthquake struck, the emergency care and disease control systems in Taiwan were able to function to their fullest and contain the number of casualties. Thousands of medical personnel risked their lives to save others.

The Disease Control Center also took timely and effective actions. It deployed necessary manpower and resources, mobilized immunization against infectious diseases, conducted strict surveillance of diseases, and even worked together with environmental protection agencies to maintain sanitation. Their effort spared Taiwan from the outbreak of any infectious diseases, which, given the severity of the damage, would have been unavoidable. It is evident to us that were it not for the timely and unselfish effort of people from both the private and public sectors, the casualties would have been graver.

Six months after the quake, we held the International Symposium of Disaster Management in Health Care System in order to exchange experiences and design a better medical response system. One of our guests from the US made this following comment: "You should be congratulated for trying to do in six months what it took the United States 30 years to do. The rest of the world will learn volumes from you." We would like to share this experience with others and we hope we will be given the opportunity.

While I am standing here, I would also like to express our gratitude to all our friends who gave us their immediate assistance. Right after the massive earthquake, over 728 rescue workers from 21 countries arrived in Taiwan. They came from different parts of the world to join in the rescue effort, and they came under their own capacity. These people transcended national boundaries and political beliefs to demonstrate what is, in my view, the greatest of all human values: compassion. Their act is a wonderful example. It once again demonstrates that caring has nothing to do with politics, race, or gender: It is about one individual's desire to end another's suffering. The individuals who came to help us are the most beautiful people I have ever met. I assure you that the people of Taiwan will never forget their help. We will always remember the compassion and courage they displayed in helping us overcome our darkest hours.

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